California small claims court question

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I was recently a tenant in California. I have sued my former landlord in Small Claims court for the entirety of my security deposit, plus interest. I am looking for an assessment of who's likely to win at trial and by how much.

The facts: I rented the landlord's home. The landlord texted me to arrange a walk-through on the day of vacancy. We did not clean the house before we vacated. There was a lot of trash, and we left some stickers that our kid placed on one of the walls. Our child also drew on the carpet with a dry-erase marker. In the pre-move in walk-through, the carpet was listed as worn or stained in three locations, and we both signed that pre-move in checklist. The landlord has no receipts for the carpet's purchase date or installation, but I have a photo that shows the carpet is a minimum of 8 years old.

The deductions: My security deposit was $6,000. I expected a deduction for cleaning and trash removal. On day 17 after my vacancy, the landlord emailed me a list of claimed deductions that totaled to slightly more than $6,000. The landlord did not provide receipts and did not claim the emailed list of deductions was preliminary. Of the over $6,000 in claimed deductions, about $5,000 was for a replacement of the carpet.

The demand letter & lawsuit: On day 22 after vacancy, I sent my landlord a demand letter via mail & email for about $5,000 of the security deposit back. I specified three reasons why: (i) for the pre-vacancy walk-through, he didn't notify me of my right to a pre-vacancy walk-through via hand delivery or mail; (ii) for the list of deductions, he didn't send it via mail or hand delivery and he didn't provide receipts or any other documentation; (iii) for the carpet, he had not established that the carpet had any remaining useful life and therefore failed to show it had any replacement value.

     My landlord responded via email and declined to return any of the security deposit. He sent a packet of estimates for work, but no receipts. He said that he could have billed me for more, but was being nice. He also included photos of what he claimed were the pre- and post-vacancy photos, but the dates didn't line up with our move-in and move-out dates. The photos of the post-vacancy were date stamped 8 days after the end of tenancy. I filed in small claims court two days after his response.

Since then: I have been in an ongoing dialogue with my landlord about the value of the carpet, since that's the bulk of the case. He has said he doesn't have documentation on its age and acknowledged that it's likely over 10 years old, but has said the carpet's age doesn't matter. He did provide an assessment of the carpet's condition from a carpet cleaning expert, but I called this expert and she said she (a) talked with the landlord 28 days after the end of tenancy, after the landlord had already claimed a full replacement deduction; and (b) didn't inspect the carpet in person.

Summary: I think I'm going to win at trial because my landlord didn't follow California law on anything at the end of my tenancy. He didn't send notices via mail or hand delivery. His list of expenses didn't include receipts or any other documentation. He still hasn't provided receipts for most of the claimed deductions - only his personal write-up. Even if a judge didn't rule based on his failure to follow California law, I think I will win on a refund of the carpet replacement cost. The carpet was at least 10 years old, the landlord has no receipts, and therefore, it seems the carpet has zero useful life remaining. If he had attempted to clean it, I could understand a deduction, but he basically decided not to try to clean it on his own - the only expert he consulted didn't see the carpet in person, and he contacted that person only after my demand letter.

What is your opinion on how this case will go at trial?

That is a lot of money you are out. I don't like the way most landlords treat their tenants, but I have a very special place I would like to send landlords who cheat their tenants out of their deposits.

You are 100% right about winning if you can prove your landlord did not give you a pre-inspection notice two weeks prior to your moving out. I believe your landlord has something like 21 days to give you an itemized list of deductions, but I also believe that sending it through email is probably as valid a method as regular mail. I've seen many judges throw cases out over those two items.

I've listened to many landlord disputes in court and it looks like you understand the laws and your position very well. It is my personal opinion that judges don't like landlords who rip tenants off, or try to nickel and dime tenants for a broken $1 toilet paper holder.

My concern is that you mentioned that you left trash, did not clean the apartment before vacating and I am wondering how thrashed you left the apartment. Even if you had a chance of winning due to the judge prorating the life of the carpet you will not do so well if the landlord shows pictures indicating you left the apartment looking like a pig sty.

You need to do an honest self-assessment and calculate the repair costs you may have incurred that are above normal wear and tear.

I own several rental homes and apartments. Before a tenant moves in we spend thousands of dollars to make every home and apartment look as pristine as possible. We spare no costs, spend many hours working hard and we are proud to show and rent our apartments.

California real estate laws state that when tenants vacate an apartment it should be essentially as clean as when they move in. But, this is almost never the case. Things that were beautiful when a tenant moved in are thrashed, covered with filth, grease, knicks, dents and everything you can imagine. Sometimes, stoves and refrigerators are so filthy we trash them and buy new appliances. We find that almost every tenant never even cleans the poop they splatter off the toilet seats. We find that most tenants never sweep or clean one floor in the home even when they live their 5, 10, or more years. We find that many tenants kick holes through doors for whatever reason and they bust doors in half when they lose their keys and get locked out. Tenants almost never take care of a landlords home the same as a homeowner would take care of the home they own.

So, most landlords have a price list for cleaning a tenants filth and the hourly rate should be no less than $30 per hour because nobody in this world works hard enough to clean filth for less than $20 per hour and then landlords have to pay payroll taxes, worker comp insurance and a lot more.

So, be honest with yourself and put a list together with the cost to clean and paint your rental that is above normal wear and tear.

Here is a very accurate estimate regarding what it costs me to clean and paint my properties in Las Vegas and there is no b.s. in what I am writing. The size of the rental homes I own range from $1800 to $2700 sq feet. The cost to remove the tenants crap they leave behind, paint every room, remove and install carpets, clean and paint the garage walls and floor, clean and rehab the damage done to the yards, etc. is never ever less than $8,000 and many times the cost for even an 1800 sq ft home exceeds $12,000. Our cost to clean a home is so insane I am currently selling every rental home I own.

One last time! Prepare an accurate list of items that were left dirtier than normal and be honest in court and use that list to counter your landlords costs. You have an excellent chance of winning if your your landlord did not give you your proper pre-inspection move-out notice, or your itemized list of deductions within the required time period.